A New Cuckoo Science

Stephen Wolfram is a one-time precocious physicist who left academia to build his own company. He is the founder of Wolfram Research whose flagship product is Mathematica, a very sophisticated and useful software for doing all kinds of math. In 1992 Wolfram went into a self-imposed 10-year seclusion to write a book. The result was a 1200-page self-published tome called A New Kind of Science. In this article, I evaluate the “science” in A New Kind of Science, using some general and obvious characteristics of science (see  here for the list that I am using). It is next to impossible to address all the flaws, blunders, and swindles that are so prevalent in the book. I’ll just pick a few that stand out, especially those in its physics portion.

628x471Materiality and Observation in Wolfram’s Science

The new kind of “science” does not study material objects. It is based on Wolfram’s “pivotal discovery,” – a phrase that he repeats in every other sentence in the book! – on which he stumbled in 1984 in a computer experiment, which showed that complexity arises from simple programs. His “science” uses programming rules that are applied to automaton cells and networks to create complex pictures on computer screens.

Theories in Wolfram’s “Science”

Wolfram’s ultimate goal is to produce pictures of the objects of “traditional” science on his desktop. He considers every production of such pictures a triumph of his “science.” It is Wolfram’s way of “explaining” things – which is a necessary but not sufficient property of a scientific theory. For example, if his rules can produce a picture of a snowflake on his desktop, he thinks he has given an “explanation” of how snow flakes are formed, never mind that he steals a discovery of the traditional science – that a speck of ice at a point of a snowflake prevents the addition of more ice at that point – and uses it to write his picture-producing program.

Since biological systems are complex, and since Wolfram’s “simple rules” can produce complex pictures, biology becomes his most favorite subject, especially because he can label the “genetic material” as programs, the holy grail of cellular automata. What does the “genetic material” do? According to Wolfram, it produces the visual features of the living things: the stripes of a zebra, the regular hexagons of a beehive, the polka dots on a fish, leaf patterns of plants, petals of flowers, …. What about evolution? After all, you can’t talk about biology without talking about evolution. What does evolution boil down to in Wolfram’s biology? Adaptation. And adaptation is reduced to trying to hide from predators, and this involves … you guessed it: protective patterns and pigmentation on skins and shells!

5 thoughts on “A New Cuckoo Science”

  1. Sorry but ALL processes are reversibles, second law of thermodynamics is a statistical law not an absolute like conservation of energy. Even if the probability is extremely low, everything can spontaneously go back in time. Thermodynamic fluctuations al

    1. Wolfram is not talking about the fundamental time reversal invariance – which is slightly violated anyway. He is talking about macroscopic reversibility and the second law of THERMODYNAMICS (which by definition involves trillions of particles). Granted that the 2nd law is probabilistic, I venture to call a process absolutely irreversible if it takes 100 times the age of the universe to see a violation of that irreversibility!

  2. OK, late night after playing with math and not paying attention to the clock, so before sleep I let Google+ communities send me around the universe in a very random fashion. I happen on this article about Wolfram’s book and my night ends on a high note, as the author’s depiction of the multiple blunders, and as he calls them swindles, brings a very broad grin.

    I should be sad that someone would waste so much time and probably money too to just throw random thoughts against a wall a see what sticks to known laws.

    But it is more comical, to think of the guy who builds, or at least at some point managed the building of an extremely powerful math tool, just laughably making this stuff up as he sits banging at a keyboard for literally years. Unbelievable.

    1. Michael,

      Sorry to respond so late. I have been busy redesigning the website, as you can see.

      Yes, it is sad that such a brilliant physicist and a computer genius spends ten years of his like writing a 1200-page book just to undermine the beautiful 400-year-old edifice of science (and mathematics). It is important, though, to expose the nonsense thrown at unsuspecting people who are prone to believing it. In some small way, I am trying to do that.

  3. Des mécanismes métaboliques font en sorte qu’il y a une résistance à la perte de poids intentionnelle et une tendance de l’indice de la masse
    corporelle à revenir à l’état d’obésité.

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